Sunday, November 04, 2012

Time running out for Stanford’s Gamefield Parcourses

Gamefield parcourse station on Palm Drive
I run on the Stanford University campus a lot. Scattered around the university I have come across the remains of a cross-training jogging or parcourse. A few stations can still be found along Palm Drive, Lake Lagunita, and Campus Drive. Most are in a sad state of disrepair. Many of the stations have just disappeared over time. A little research turned up the following information about the course. Originally these marked trails and workout sites combined scientifically designed exercises with walking or jogging to provide a balanced physical fitness routine for the entire body. Individual exercise stations were spaced along a walking or jogging/running path. The participant proceeded from one exercise station to the next and performed the exercises illustrated at each station.

According to Wikipedia, “the original parcourse was invented in 1968 by Swiss architect Erwin Weckemann with support from Swiss life insurance firm Vita. The first course was built in Zurich, Switzerland. Hundreds of courses were built in Europe by 1972”.  The first parcouse trail to be built in the United States was in San Francisco’s Mountain Lake Park in the Presidio. By the mid-1980s there were more than 4500 parcourses in existence around the US.

Chin-up station on Campus Dr. East
I found a number of newspaper stories on-line reporting of a joint project between an enlightened corporate business, a federal agency and a local university. Beginning in 1979 and extending into the late-80's, Wells Fargo Bank, in cooperation with the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports and the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), launched a fitness campaign centered on cross-training jogging/running courses called "Wells Fargo Gamefield." Sports medical experts at Stanford University Heart Disease Prevention Center and the Arizona Heart Institute designed the training programs. It was the largest privately funded fitness program in American schools and parks.

Station along Lake Lagunita
The goal was to help prevent life-threatening illnesses such as heart disease. The Gamefield was a motivational self-guided fitness course that provided a total conditioning routine and a fitness education program in one package. It was designed to encourage people to begin jogging and exercising by providing the basis for a fitness plan. Courses similar to the Gamefield were developed in Europe and designed by sports medical experts to increase physical endurance, agility, flexibility and cardiovascular conditioning.
Station along Lake Lagunita
Signs at each station told participants how to use the equipment, provided fitness tips and gave information about the body and cardiovascular conditioning through aerobic exercise. The typical 15 to 20-stations, mile-long course was mapped out on a game field or park. Wells Fargo offered grants to build the courses in thousands of cities across the US. There were several standard Wells Fargo Gamefield options: 20-Station Jogging Course, Walking Course for Seniors, Fitness Court, and a Free Wheeling Gamefield for disabled individuals.

By the end on the 1980’s, parcourses had passed into being another physical fitness fad. Serious runners were now doing organized road and trail races (5K, 10K, Marathons).  All kinds of home workout equipment became cheap and plentiful and pitched on TV. These include everything from “Ab Rollers” and “Thigh Masters” to VHS video workouts to treadmills and exercise bikes. And finally, fitness clubs became more than just the local “Y”. Fitness chains such as 24 Hour Fitness, Gold’s Gym, Curves, Equinox, etc. could be found in nearly every mall.

I think Stanford University would be well served to repair and revive their Gamefiled parcouses. Stanford touts its world-class workout facilities but has ignored the parcourse stations on campus. It would be a perfect tie-in with its “BeWell” Employee Incentive Program that encourages Stanford employees and their spouses to live a healthy lifestyle.

This station on Mayfield Drive disappeared sometime after I took this picture in June 2012.
Rings Station along Lake Lagunita
Strengthening Court by near Stanford Hospital and Med School on Campus Drive West
Gamefield Strengthening Court sign closeup

Warm-up and Cool-down instructions

UPDATE: As of January 2013, the Strengthening Court on Campus Drive West by Stanford Hospital and Medical School is gone. All remains is the orange workout sign. All the workout stations have been removed. 


Jack Lambert said...

What an interesting piece, thank you. I just came back from using the "Strength Center" on Campus Drive and the rings at the Lake. It is really useful as I'm not currently in a position to get gym membership (which as you mention is contributing factor to these falling out of use). Unfortunately it was all getting pretty wobbly, and not surprising looking at the age of the info board! It is interesting you mention that their origins in Europe; I'm originally from Belgium and they are really big there, with new ones still springing up in parks and woods quite often. Anyway I would gladly support any drive to refurbish the Stanford stations as I'm sure many others would: so many people run around campus and there must be a demand for people supplementing this with strength and conditioning work without having to go to a gym....


Ridiculous! The Stanford admin should be sodomized...wait, they'd like that! Maybe its a ploy to keep the CICU well stocked.

Unknown said...

There used to be a par course in the area around SGI's early buildings (Buildings 1,2 & 3) in the late 1980's/early 1990's. They were a great place to walk or jog and do the stations as a place for a work break. Retired now, I cycle a lot and only recently noticed (duh!) the exercise station alongside Palm Drive. That prompted this on-line search only to find I'm a couple of decades out of date. I do know a VP at Wells Fargo (as well as a long-time - 1988 - customer. If Jack Lambert (above) of others are interested in supporting a drive to get the stations up again at Stanford, I'd be happy to work with a small group of supporters. I am doing this posting on September 13, 2015. I can be contacted via e-mail at

Anonymous said...

As of today, the Overhead Ladder (monkey bars) on Palm Drive has been removed. I just used it on Thursday 5/5/2016, and when I went to use it today, it was no longer there. I have not managed to find the Campus Dr. pullup bars shown in the blog post. It seems that the Gamefield is no more.

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